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Getting Past the Summer Attendance Blues

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This is it, folks—we’re now in the throes of what I like to call Summer Attendance Blues. Every year it’s the same story: June hits, attendance at gyms, fitness centers, and health clubs takes a dive. It stays low till the end of August. You watch in despair as a handful of only the most loyal clients straggles in for classes, while your front desk crew twiddle their thumbs and your locker rooms stay woefully empty.
Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but some days can feel that way. What can you do?
It may be daunting to imagine cutting back on your group exercise schedule, but that could be the first step to take. On IHRSA’s blog, Anne Whiteside, program director at the Yakima Athletic Club in Yakima, Washington, says, “It’s absolutely necessary to cut back on group fitness classes during the slower months.” Frances Michaelson, Owner/Director of Muscle Up, Inc. in Quebec, Canada, agrees. “In the summer,” she says, “there’s always a drop in the numbers and it’s acceptable to reduce the number of classes.”
If you do cut back, you’ll inevitably displease some people, but both Whiteside and Michaelson say there are steps you can take to assuage them. Whiteside recommends educating members very directly about why you’re cutting back. “Inform them about industry averages for classes, and/or your own personal goals for the club’s group exercise program. Let them know what the numbers are, that that they’re falling off due to seasonal low attendance.” One possible benefit from doing so is that members may begin to pay more attention to the shrinking numbers—and they may start to encourage others to attend regularly in order to keep the classes on the schedule. Another option is to combine classes, says Michaelson. “For example, if you offer a step class and a toning class that are both popular, then why not put the two together with a circuit-style format, and call it ‘Step ‘n Tone’?”
If reducing the number of class offerings doesn’t seem like enough, or if it’s something you’re simply not willing to do, there are still other steps you can take. You could consider instituting summer hours, keeping all your offerings but compressing them into just four or five days a week. Or design an incentives program. Perhaps if members attend 35 classes between July 1st and August 31st, they receive a discount for September, or if they bring a friend to at least 10 classes during that time, their friend gets a month’s membership free. Think about what kind of program would work best for your facility, and get creative. You might also try simply getting members to pledge at the start of summer that they’ll make it to your facility a certain number of times before the summer ends. Studies show that people are more likely to stick to promises and goals if they take the trouble to state them in a formal way.
Whatever your plan, make sure you have one, even if it’s just doubling down on efforts to keep attendance high during the fall, winter, and spring. The last thing you want is that experience of sitting around watching the numbers dip, feeling powerless and waiting for the year’s sunniest season to end. And remember: Summer does end. Everyone will be back.

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